The Polish King John III Sobieski is credited with having introduced potatoes - known initially as amerykany (from "America") - to his countrymen in the mid-1600s, after a visit to Vienna. Thus began a love affair that was to make Poland one of the 20th century's giants of potato production.
By 1970, the country was harvesting more than 50 million tonnes of potatoes a year, a quantity bettered at the time only by the Soviet Union.
Today, Poland still ranks in the top 10 of world producers. However, harvests have declined in recent years, slipping from 36 million tonnes in 1990 to 24.2 million tonnes in 2000, then plummeting to a record low of less than 9 million tonnes in 2006. The 2007 harvest, of almost 11.8 million tonnes was a welcome "return to form" for Polish production.
Nevertheless, ziemniaki remain at the heart of Polish agriculture, grown by an estimated 2.2 million farmers using 10 percent of the total area for field crops. By recent estimates, almost half of the potato crop is used as farm animal feed, while 25 percent goes to human consumption, which was around 130 kg per capita in 2005. (Source: International Year of the Potato)